JEP 204: JavaFX Accessibility

AuthorStephen Northover
OwnerSteve Northover
Created2014/05/16 18:55
Updated2016/06/07 23:34
TypeFeature
StatusClosed / Delivered
Componentclient-libs
ScopeJDK
Discussionopenjfx dash dev at openjdk dot java dot net
EffortXL
DurationXL
Priority1
Reviewed byKevin Rushforth
Endorsed byRichard Bair
Release8u40
Issue8043344
Relates toJEP 209: JavaFX Scene Builder Update

Summary

Enhance existing JavaFX controls to support assistive technologies and provide a public API so that developers can write their own accessible controls.

Motivation

Accessibility technology is provided by most operating systems to help users with disabilities or special needs more easily operate their computers. For example, a user who is having trouble seeing the screen might invoke a screen reader to read aloud the items in a list box. Accessibility is a key feature of any widget toolkit and is often a hard requirement before a technology can be adopted by government or industry.

Description

When we talk about accessibility, most of the time we are referring to the screen reader. This is the area where the majority of the work is needed. In addition to screen-reader support, all controls must be traversable using the keyboard. Further, a special high-contrast mode must be supported that makes controls more visible to users.

Accessibility is challenging to implement in a widget toolkit because it often touches many different software layers. In JavaFX, the Glass layer is an abstraction for the operating system. The Prism layer puts pixels on the screen while the Quantum layer knits Glass and Prism together. The Graphics component provides a scene graph and other functionality above Glass and Prism. Controls are built on top of these layers. All of these layers will need to be modified to implement accessibility in JavaFX.

Native code is required to interface with operating-system accessibility APIs. The native APIs differ across operating systems. This requires a layer of abstraction either in native code or in Java, and an internal API with different implementations to access native code. In JavaFX terms, the same way that Glass wraps native concepts, such as a top level window, it must also wrap accessible concepts such as "the selection in a control has changed". This internal API must be the same for clients of Glass such as Quantum, but the implementation is vastly different.

Each JavaFX control, and the various different concepts it implements, must be surfaced to the screen reader. This can cause an explosion of the API. To put this in JavaFX Glass terms, Glass wraps native top-level windows but does not attempt to wrap native controls such as the native table. Accessibility must expose the concepts and behavior of a large set of controls. Attributes of each unique control must be modeled in Glass. For example, all table-like controls must be selectable and traversable and indicate when interesting properties, such as selection, have changed. Glass is, essentially, providing a portable API to native functionality which is always a tricky thing to do (see attempts by the widget toolkits AWT and SWT). Fortunately, the number of attributes that must be exposed per control is considerably smaller than the complete API of a typical native control.

Accessibility has the further requirement that custom controls written by third parties must also be accessible. This requires the FX API to indicate which parts of a custom control represent the row in a table or the selection in a text control. The Accessibility API is used by both built-in and custom controls.

The following links describe a very early prototype that is already in progress: Keyboard navigation, accessibility exploration.

Testing

It is very difficult to automate testing for screen readers. Therefore, testing is likely to be intensive and manual. No special software is required to test accessibility because assistive support such as screen readers is built into the platforms. Sometimes the platform technologies are augmented or replaced by offerings from third party assistive-technology vendors. These vendors are expected to ensure that their respective technologies work. JavaFX will implement the standard operating-system API so no special shared library such as the Java Access Bridge is required. Third-party programs that use the standard API will work, provided that they use the API in a manner that is consistent and compatible with their built-in native counterparts.